Chinese Funeral Culture and Grief Etiquettes — History, Tradition, and Customs

Celadon Barn of the Song Dynasty (960 — 1279) for Funeral Use

Celadon Barn of the Song Dynasty (960 — 1279) for Funeral Use — The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art (Photo by Dongmaiying)

 

What Is National Grief Etiquette In Chinese Funeral Culture?

 

No later than the Zhou Dynasty (1046 BC — 256 BC), national grief etiquettes were held to mourn large-scale tragedies, including famine, plague, natural disasters, and big failures in warfare. 

 

Besides sacrificial and worship rites to pray for blessing, emperors and nobles sometimes would stay frugal and cut off entertainment activities to show their grief and condolences.

 

Meanwhile, the government would implement a series of policies to help people go through difficult times, including providing free food, free burial budgets, low-interest loans, recruiting poor people for national construction jobs, lowering taxes, loosening strict laws, canceling corvee, lowering the standards or cancel expansive celebration activities, and encourage marriage to guarantee population. 

Wanli Emperor (1563 — 1620) and Officials Wearing Plain Clothes (Su Fu) and Walking to Temple of Heaven to Pray for Rain

Wanli Emperor (1563 — 1620) and Officials Wearing Plain Clothes (Su Fu) and Walking to Temple of Heaven to Pray for Rain, on "Xu Xianqing Huanji Tu" Painted by By Artists Yu Ren and Wu Yue in 1588 ​— Palace Museum

 

How Did Ancient Chinese Perceive the Death?

 

The beliefs about death and funeral have been quite diverse in ancient Chinese history. 

 

Confucianism believes that one's virtue and accomplishment are more important than lifespan, but a ritual funeral is a good way to show the deceased's accomplishment, social status, as well as respect and memories from devoted families and friends. 

 

Taoism respects the following of nature, and Mohism encourages simple funerals. 

 

Buddhism and Taoism Religion believe in spirits and reincarnation. 

 

However, in ancient history, respect and fear of death, and strong beliefs in spirits and the afterlife have been the most common ideology of most Chinese people. 

 

Therefore, death was considered as important as birth. 

 

This is the reason for the rich burial and complicated funeral in ancient Chinese culture.

Funeral Silk Painting about Auspicious Animals and Deities Welcoming the Deceased's Spirit to Heaven, Unearthed from Mawangdui Tomb of Western Han Dynasty (202 BC — 8 AD)

Silk Painting about Auspicious Animals and Deities Welcoming the Deceased's Spirit to Heaven, Unearthed from Mawangdui Tomb of Western Han Dynasty (202 BC — 8 AD) — Hunan Museum